Five Poems to Celebrate National Poetry Month

When one tugs at a single thing in nature,
he finds it attached to the rest of the world.
John Muir

I write this at the end of what seems like the longest month of my life. For a poet here in the United States, April is almost always the loudest, stormiest, busiest month—filled with readings to attend, to give, and new poetry collections blooming every week. What a time to luxuriate and revel in the power of a finely crafted metaphor, a clever line break, or a last line that just pierces you into silence for a moment! 

But what of this year, when death and illness seem to be the only thing now blooming when we tug (or touch) each other. If you are like me, the days have been blended together, and most days, it feels like it’s perpetually four p.m. In the morning, I reflexively turn on the news to check the heartbeat of the planet with a hope that the death toll from this virus has finally stopped growing. When I find the disappointing answer, I have to will myself to go about my day, set up my kids’ online classroom stations at the kitchen table or at their desks, prepare for the hours when my husband and I set up our own online classes, and check off my to-do list. Or I could curl up on the couch and weep over missing my elderly parents who reside in Florida, worry when I will get to hug them and walk and talk with them in their garden filled with tropical fruit trees again. Worry when one of them will have to go to the store and what they will be exposed to. Worry over my friend’s lingering cough that he swears is allergies. 

But not today. Today it is seventy-eight degrees and sunny here in Oxford, Mississippi, and there is a bluebird telenovela taking place in my backyard. Once in a while, an unwanted blue jay interrupts the scene and what an actor he is—looking lost at first, then shoving the bystander Carolina wrens away from our window feeders. Squawking so loud he frightens the nesting bluebird couple. The nerve!

I wish I could tell you that this bird reverie carried me upward and onward through this most difficult of months. Not so. The reality and grief over missing my beloved students—I never got to say goodbye in person as classes were moved online over spring break a couple of weeks ago—and all the scary news of the spread of the virus and a thousand other worries for our planet and its inhabitants have kept me awake, in a state of alarm, and when I sleep—it is not sound. 

But I believe in poetry. I believe it can elevate you for even just a brief moment—not to forget the horror surrounding us (it’s there, it’s there. I can’t pretend it’s not)—but it can alter how we see the world, how we see each other. I have faith that we will be able to touch each other and break bread together at the same table again soon. Maybe not as soon as I’d like, but soon. At least that is what I tell my sons. And when that day comes, how lucky to find ourselves attached to the rest of the world once again!

Below you will find five poems, hand-selected by me, to get you started. We’ll be sharing some previously published poems on Orion’s Facebook and Twitter profiles, and email newsletters throughout the month of April. Come back and check this bounty, this bouquet, this bloom!

Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Poetry Editor

 

Layli Long Soldier: Whereas I did not desire (May/June 2017)
Sally Wen Mao: Phra Nang (Fall 2019)
Oliver de la Paz: Diaspora Sonnet 44 (Winter 2018) 
Ellen Bass: Roses (Summer 2017)
Brian Doyle: Tyee (May/June 2016)

 

More Resources:

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is a professor of English in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program. Her newest collection of poems is Oceanic, winner of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for poetry (Copper Canyon Press, 2018). With Ross Gay, she co-wrote the chapbook, Lace & Pyrite, a collaboration of nature poems. She is also the author of a forthcoming book of illustrated nature essays, World of Wonders, from Milkweed Editions in 2020. She is the poetry editor of Orion and her poems have appeared in the Best American Poetry 2015 & 2018 series, American Poetry Review, New England Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, and Tin House. Her honors include a 2020 Guggenheim fellowship, a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Pushcart Prize.